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Fortnightly Magazine - March 15 1997

Do Lifeline Programs Promote Universal Telephone Service for the Pool?

Christopher Garbacz, and Herbert G. Thompson, Jr.

Hardly at all. In fact, they do little more than reapportion income (em a task that lies outside the FCC's mandate.

The Federal-State Joint Board on Universal Service recently proposed to expand subsidy programs for Lifeline telephone service. Under the Telecommunications Act of 1996, the Joint Board seeks to add more low-income households to the telephone network.

Will such a strategy work? Our recent findings suggest not. They indicate that simple continuance of such programs, much less expansion, is a highly questionable proposition.

High Court Upholds Dichotomy in Tax Case

Lori A. Burkhart

The U.S. Supreme Court in late February ruled that it is constitutional for Ohio to impose a 5-percent use tax on purchases of natural gas from an out-of-state natural gas marketer, when the same purchases would have been exempt from tax had the purchaser bought the gas from an in-state local distribution company.

Nicholas Bush, Natural Gas Supply Association president, expressed disappointment with the decision and called it a setback for development of a national, competitive natural gas marketplace.

Frontlines

Bruce W. Radford

Two months ago in this space, I interviewed a power marketer and an independent power producer who sit on the operating and engineering committees of the North American Electric Reliability Council. What did they think of NERC, a group formed to prevent large-scale power outages and made up largely of volunteers from investor-owned electric utilities? Were they treated fairly? Did they have a chance to influence policy?

In general, my two "outsiders" felt satisfied with their status on the committees, though some skepticism emerged about NERC's internal decision-making process.

Growing Nuclear Safety Problems Expand NRC's Watch List

Lori A. Burkhart

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has placed 14 nuclear reactors on its watch list(emthe highest number in about 10 years(emdue to safety problems. The plant were placed on the watch list by senior NRC managers at their semi-annual performance review of operating nuclear plants and fuel-cycle facilities.

The NRC also sent a letter to Commonwealth Edison asking the utility to explain why it should be allowed to operate six nuclear units at three of its nuclear plants that are on the list. Commonwealth is improving performance at each site.

People

Former Sen. Alan K. Simpson (R-Wyo.) has joined the PacifiCorp board of directors. Simpson retired from the Senate earlier this year after serving three terms. Also at PacifiCorp, Dennis Steinberg, a senior v.p., was named head of global energy sales, marketing and trading. John Bohling, another senior v.p., will direct customer service, among other activities. Mike Henderson will head a new group for international business, technology and planning.

John M. Deutch has returned as a member of the CMS Energy Corp. Board of Directors. Deutch served on the board from 1986 to 1993.

Schaefer Reintroduces Restructuring Bill

Lori A. Burkhart

House Energy and Power Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Dan Schaefer (R-Colo.), recently reintroduced his comprehensive electric restructuring bill, which largely mirrors legislation Schaefer had introduced in the 104th Congress.

The new bill, "Electric Consumers' Power to Choose Act of 1997" (H.R. 655), was presented Feb. 10 and differs from the original only in that it would not preempt the state restructurings already taking place.

Trends

Christopher Seiple

As the U.S. Congress works to pass federal legislation introducing competition into the electric utility industry, one of the most divisive issues regulators and policymakers must grapple with is that of stranded cost. In a recent study completed by Resource Data International, we have found that an important issue will be how "negative" stranded costs are handled.

At the heart of our study is a detailed, plant-by-plant, analysis of stranded costs for every utility in the country. We estimate that the total above-market stranded cost nationally is $202 billion.

FERC To Address Market Power, Must-Run Plants

Lori A. Burkhart

California's three largest investor-owned utilities have petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to convene a technical workshop on market-power issues raised by electric deregulation. Although a workshop had been held on Jan. 17, the utilities say the need more guidance (Docket No. ER96-1663-000).

The utilities are most concerned with the issue of "must-run" plants, and how to minimize the market power of generating units that must run to maintain reliability.

Joules

XENERGY Inc. and the Electric Power-Research Institute will team up in a second phase of a retail-wheeling pilot program study. The expanded study will include California, Massachusetts, Illinois and New York. Competitors, market share and sales strategies will be assessed. XENERGY first started the survey in July 1996. More than 40 utilities sponsored the research. The first phase focused mostly on New Hampshire, but also targeted electricity deregulation in the 50 states. Phase two, focusing on commercial-industrial customers, ends June 1997.

Congressmen Working To Eliminate Federal Payments to TVA By Restructuring

Lori A. Burkhart

Responding to a call by Tennessee Valley Authority's Chairman Craven Crowell to eliminate the $106-million, annual appropriation provided to it, Representatives Bob Franks (R-NJ.) and Marty Meehan (D-Mass.) on Feb. 5 introduced a bill to end that federal payment.

The congressmen, who also co-chair of the Northeast-Midwest Congressional Coalition, distributed a study outlining the $1.2 billion in annual indirect taxpayer subsidies provided to TVA.

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